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Language and EnlightenmentThe Berlin Debates of the Eighteenth Century$
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Avi Lifschitz

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199661664

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199661664.001.0001

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A Point of Convergence and New Departures

A Point of Convergence and New Departures

The 1759 Contest on Language and Opinions

(p.119) 5 A Point of Convergence and New Departures
Language and Enlightenment

Avi Lifschitz

Oxford University Press

The chapter is dedicated to the Berlin contest of 1759 on the reciprocal influence of language and opinions. While most contestants tried to answer the question by recasting it as a historical account of the evolution of language, Johann David Michaelis focused on the set topic while elaborating a panoramic view of language as an ongoing project of a living community. Michaelis's principled objection to invented scientific idioms and his espousal of the common use of the vernacular had strong political overtones. He repeatedly compared language to political democracy and discussed several Epicurean themes in a delicate manner. The combined effect of the 1759 prize contest and the local discussions of Rousseau's conundrums led to what was commonly perceived as an insurmountable stalemate. The chapter ends with an overview of the new challenges elaborated by Formey, Mendelssohn, and Hamann.

Keywords:   Berlin Academy, 1759 prize contest, language and mind, democracy, epicureanism, Johann David Michaelis, Moses Mendelssohn, Jean Henri Samuel Formey, Johann Georg Hamann

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